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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Modest Mouse hits the 30-year mark as the alt-rock pioneers return to the Knitting Factory

Modest Mouse founding members Jeremiah Green, left, and Isaac Brock will bring the band back to Spokane on Saturday night for a show at the Knitting Factory.  (James Joiner)
By Ed Condran From The Spokesman-Review

After making music with Morrissey during the salad days of his well-chronicled career, music fans might think that Johnny Marr has never worked with a finer wordsmith. However, the former Smiths’ guitarist begs to differ.

“The best lyricist I’ve worked with is Isaac Brock,” Marr said during a 2021 interview. “He just makes songs better than ever.”

That’s high praise since the controversial Morrissey is one of the most amusing and sharpest lyricists since the Smiths altered the course of alternative rock during the early ‘80s.

The admiration is mutual since Brock, who fronts Modest Mouse, is a huge Marr fan.

“Johnny’s great,” Brock said by phone from his Portland home. “He’s a smart dude on all levels.”

Brock knows the British icon well since he was part of Modest Mouse from 2006 to 2008. “It was one of my favorite times in our band,” Brock said. “There is nobody like Johnny Marr.”

Fans are pining for Marr to return to Modest Mouse. In the meantime, the band, which will return Saturday to the Knitting Factory, is still out on the road supporting its latest release “The Golden Casket,” which is one of its brightest albums. The dark, insular songs from such albums as “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” and “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” have been replaced by some songs that are almost bubbly.

“Well, since hopelessness seemed to be such a hot commodity (during the pandemic) I felt it was best not to contribute and focus on the antidote as much as possible,” Brock said.

One of the most upbeat songs from the surprising “Golden Casket” is “Lace Up Your Shoes,” a cute track inspired by Brock’s young daughter.

“When we started tracking, (producer) Dave Sardy and I were trying to get the singing and lyrics for a bunch of songs, kind of flitting from one to another,” Brock said. “I kept running into a roadblock. They were all trying to be about how much I love my children. I figured out that if I didn’t write an unabashed love song to them that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with any of the others. So I opened the syrup spigot and let it gush out. It worked.”

Co-producers Sardy and Jacknife Lee add some sheen to the project but “The Golden Casket” isn’t slick. It’s arguably the best sounding Modest Mouse album.

“We saw a lot of possibilities with the wide array of interesting processors, plug-ins and magic tricks offered in the computer,” Brock said. “Then we paired them with odd, not necessarily musical sounds from the natural world. We really just got into the weeds with that aspect of recording before we got hung up on turning them into actual songs.”

Lee was late to the game with Modest Mouse, which also includes drummer Jeremiah Green, multi-instrumentalist Tom Peloso, bassist-guitarist Russell Higbee, percussionist Ben Massarella and guitarist Simon O’Connor. Lee was asked to work on four of the tracks after the album had already been recorded. “He did an amazing job,” Brock said. “Dave Sardy and the band steered the sonic diversity during the tracking.”

Most of the “Golden Casket” songs were born out of jams. “We intentionally started the record with very few pre-prepared songs,” Brock said. “We started each track as a sonic collage and then found the shape of the song as the lyrical elements were added.”

It’s been 30 years since Brock formed Modest Mouse in Issaquah and the band has come a long way since the release of its 1996 debut, “This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About.”

“Sometimes I can’t believe how long we’ve been around,” Brock said. “Time does really fly. The cool thing is that there is still more to come.”